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Article

Kimberly M. Carlson and Rachael D. Garrett

Oil crops play a critical role in global food and energy systems. Since these crops have high oil content, they provide cooking oils for human consumption, biofuels for energy, feed for animals, and ingredients in beauty products and industrial processes. In 2014, oil crops occupied about 20% of crop harvested area worldwide. While small-scale oil crop production for subsistence or local consumption continues in certain regions, global demand for these versatile crops has led to substantial expansion of oil crop agriculture destined for export or urban markets. This expansion and subsequent cultivation has diverse effects on the environment, including loss of forests, savannas, and grasslands, greenhouse gas emissions, regional climate change, biodiversity decline, fire, and altered water quality and hydrology. Oil palm in Southeast Asia and soybean in South America have been identified as major proximate causes of tropical deforestation and environmental degradation. Stringent conservation policies and yield increases are thought to be critical to reducing rates of soybean and oil palm expansion into natural ecosystems. However, the higher profits that often accompany greater yields may encourage further expansion, while policies that restrict oil crop expansion in one region may generate secondary “spillover” effects on other crops and regions. Due to these complex feedbacks, ensuring a sustainable supply of oil crop products to meet global demand remains a major challenge for agricultural companies, farmers, governments, and civil society.

Article

Lydia Kallipoliti

The term ecological design was coined in a 1996 book by Sim van der Ryn and Stewart Cowan, in which the authors argued for a seamless integration of human activities with natural processes to minimize destructive environmental impact. Following their cautionary statements, William McDonough and Michael Braungart published in 2002 their manifesto book From Cradle to Cradle, which proposed a circular political economy to replace the linear logic of “cradle to grave.” These books have been foundational in architecture and design discussions on sustainability and establishing the technical dimension, as well as the logic, of efficiency, optimization, and evolutionary competition in environmental debates. From Cradle to Cradle evolved into a production model implemented by a number of companies, organizations, and governments around the world, and it also has become a registered trademark and a product certification. Popularized recently, these developments imply a very short history for the growing field of ecological design. However, their accounts hark as far back as Ernst Haeckel’s definition of the field of ecology in 1866 as an integral link between living organisms and their surroundings (Generelle Morphologie der Organismen, 1866); and Henry David Thoreau’s famous 1854 manual for self-reliance and living in proximity with natural surroundings, in the cabin that he built at Walden Pond, Massachusetts (Walden; or, Life in the Woods, 1854). Since World War II, contrary to the position of ecological design as a call to fit harmoniously within the natural world, there has been a growing interest in a form of synthetic naturalism, (Closed Worlds; The Rise and Fall of Dirty Physiology, 2015), where the laws of nature and metabolism are displaced from the domain of wilderness to the domain of cities, buildings, and objects. With the rising awareness of what John McHale called disturbances in the planetary reservoir (The Future of the Future, 1969), the field of ecological design has signified not only the integration of the designed object or space in the natural world, but also the reproduction of the natural world in design principles and tools through technological mediation. This idea of architecture and design producing nature paralleled what Buckminster Fuller, John McHale, and Ian McHarg, among others, referred to as world planning; that is, to understand ecological design as the design of the planet itself as much as the design of an object, building, or territory. Unlike van der Ryn and Cowan’s argumentation, which focused on a deep appreciation for nature’s equilibrium, ecological design might commence with the synthetic replication of natural systems. These conflicting positions reflect only a small fraction of the ubiquitous terms used to describe the field of ecological design, including green, sustain, alternative, resilient, self-sufficient, organic, and biotechnical. In the context of this study, this paper will argue that ecological design starts with the reconceptualization of the world as a complex system of flows rather than a discrete compilation of objects, which visual artist and theorist György Kepes has described as one of the fundamental reorientations of the 20th century (Art and Ecological Consciousness, 1972).

Article

Wayne C. Zipperer, Robert Northrop, and Michael Andreu

At the beginning of the 21st century more than 50% of the world’s population lived in cities. By 2050, this percentage will exceed 60%, with the majority of growth occurring in Asia and Africa. As of 2020 there are 31 megacities, cities whose population exceeds 10 million, and 987 smaller cities whose populations are greater than 500 thousand but less than 5 million in the world. By 2030 there will be more than 41 megacities and 1290 smaller cities. However, not all cities are growing. In fact, shrinking cities, those whose populations are declining, occur throughout the world. Factors contributing to population decline include changes in the economy, low fertility rates, and catastrophic events. Population growth places extraordinary demand for natural resources and exceptional stress on natural systems. For example, over 13 million hectares of forest land are converted to agriculture, urban land use, and industrial forestry annually. This deforestation significantly affects both hydrologic systems and territorial habitats. Hydrologically, urbanization creates a condition called urban stream syndrome. The increase in storm runoff, caused by urbanization through the addition of impervious surfaces, alters stream flow, morphology, temperature, and water quantity and quality. In addition, leaky sewer lines and septic systems as well as the lack of sanitation systems contribute significant amounts of nutrients and organic contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, caffeine, and detergents. Ecologically, these stressors and contaminants significantly affect aquatic flora and fauna. Habitat loss is the greatest threat to biodiversity. Urbanization not only destroys and fragments habitats but also alters the environment itself. For example, deforestation and fragmentation of forest lands lead to the degradation and loss of forest interior habitat as well as creating forest edge habitat. These changes shift species composition and abundance from urban avoiders to urban dwellers. In addition, roads and other urban features isolate populations causing local extinctions, limit dispersal among populations, increase mortality rates, and aid in the movement of invasive species. Cities often have higher ambient temperatures than rural areas, a phenomenon called the urban heat island effect. The urban heat island effect alters precipitation patterns, increases ozone production (especially during the summer), modifies biogeochemical processes, and causes stresses on humans and native species. The negative effect of the expansion and urbanization itself can be minimized through proper planning and design. Planning with nature is not new but it has only recently been recognized that human survival is predicated on coexisting with biodiversity and native communities. How and if cities apply recommendations for sustainability depends entirely on the people themselves.